herself, stretching and rolling from side to side, and finally propping herself up on one arm and
looking around the room, smiling. Annie had bought a little "Dora the Explorer" doll before
leaving and had propped it in a corner of the room so Åine could discover it. Áine looked
around the room, saw Dora, and said, "Oh, Dora, hooray!" She held onto her for dear life.
Annie and I both awoke with a case of the Irish sniffles. Unfortunately as a musician you
cannot afford to be ill, and so I willed myself to remain healthy as I got ready for the day.
A sort of ritual developed as I headed down to the dining room with an empty baby bottle. The
staff would be waiting for me and would take the bottle to the kitchen. I would grab a cup of
coffee and look at the mountains. About ten minutes later, they would come back with a warm
bottle of milk. That would be brought to Áine, who would be ready for her breakfast drink.
Then I would head back to the dining room, talk with people from our tour group about the
day ahead, and share another cup of coffee. This day, I put together a plate of food and
brought it back to the room. The food was a full Irish breakfast of rashers, fried eggs, tomatoes,
mushrooms, blood sausages, and bangers, some strawberry and rhubarb yogurt, some muesli,
and a glass of apple juice. All that for Annie, the baby, and me to dine on as we watched kid
shows in Irish and got dressed. The sound of hooves clattered outside and I carried Áine over
to the window. She gasped in wonder at the sight of horses and carts. Four of them pulled up
to the hotel for our tour group to take a ride into Killarney National Park and over to Ross Castle.
We came downstairs and everyone was excited. Micky and Terry moved about getting people
onto this cart and that cart. Jarveys, the name given to the drivers, stood about and joked with
one another. The horses stood patiently in the crisp air. Slow wisps of steam played off their
coats and their breath came out in miniature puffs of clouds. Áine was transfixed and our driver,
named Paddy, had her sit up front with me as her guardian. The horse was named Bob, and he
was a pretty Belgian, with a dark coat and sturdy withers and hips. The tack on Bob, as well as
the other horses, had seen better days, and the creative solutions to keeping it viable would
make a show equestrian cringe. Bits of foam rubber wrapped around the collars, duct tape
holding together leather pieces, and twine and wire where buckles once were. I loved it for the
honesty and ingenuity of it all.
October is a great time to be in Ireland and the perfect time to see Killarney National Park. For
one thing, autumn is starting to paint the leaves, but unlike North America, the Gulf Stream
keeps most of the plants alive. So there is a profusion of wildflowers, ivy plants, fall foliage and
ferns that create a pleasant palette for the eye. On top of that is the fact that Killarney National
Park has some of the best preserved groves of Irish oak on the island. We headed deep into such glades, with a stream running close by. The open fields revealed herds of red deer. It being the rut, the stags were out in force, with harems of does being safeguarded by this one and that. Around the perimeter, looking like high school freshmen at their first dance, were the immature bulls, nervously nibbling on grass and casting one wary eye on the direction of the dominant males. Of all the times I have been to Ireland, and have visited Killarney National Park, I had yet to see a red deer. This trip changed all that by the score.
Our group asked Áine to call out to them. "Deer! Deer!" she would say, but they were oblivious
to the tourists from Canada and America being escorted by the Jarveys.
"A clock, a clock," I thought I heard Áine say. Turns out that she was pointing to the stream and
the flocks of mallard that were floating by. "Good eye," Paddy the driver said to her. "Would you
like to hold the reins, Áine?" Áine cautiously took the reins and slowly Paddy let go of his grip.
Bob noticed the change and sensing a bit more freedom, picked up his pace. But Áine stayed
the course and drove our group almost to Ross Castle.
Ross Castle is one of the many Norman keeps (castle forts) that were home to various ruling
families in Ireland. Carefully restored, it stands by the lake and is one of the most photographed
scenes in all of Ireland. Unlike similar keeps such as Bunratty and Blarney, Ross Castle as part of the national park has escaped being transformed into a tourist trap. The setting is one where
it does not take much for the mind to transport the beholder back to a time when the McCarthys
ruled the land.
Waiting for us was a boat that took us out onto the lake and past some of the monastic islands
that once were great centers of learning. It was on one of these islands that the Great High King
of Ireland Brian Boru was educated as a boy. The day before our group was able to see the
Blasket Islands of the Dingle Peninsula. It was on these islands, during the Dark Ages, that Irish
monks lived in stone beehive-shaped huts, copying all manner of texts from the Greeks and
Romans. They singlehandedly saved Western Civilization and in a matter of centuries in turn
began to reeducate Europe. The Emperor Chalemagne and other leaders were taught by Irish
monks and the great Boru himself.
The ride on the ship was joyful. Everyone had Irish coffee and we all visited with one another.
My Canadian friends and I commiserated about politics on both sides of the border, how stupid
our shared border is when one can travel freely by comparison between the two old archenemies of France and Germany, and how wonderful the meals in Ireland are. I pointed out to my friend Max a golden eagle perched high on a hillside tree overlooking the lake. The sun broke through and treated us to a rainbow. We got off the boat, happy and fueled up.
Some people elected to head into town to do some shopping and some decided to go hiking up
the mountains. Maggie, Annie,Tammy and Áine took off on an adventure into the glen. There,
they got taken by the fairies, for Áine was transfixed by this one tree that had an entrance. She did not want to leave, but instead was quite adamant on staying and peering at something that the ladies could not see. Once coaxed away and finally on the path, the whole party got turned around and could not find their way back. It took a search party of Brian and myself to locate them. By that time, the coaches had been long gone, so we hired another Jarvey to take us back to the hotel It was an excellent time to talk and enjoy the sunshine.
That evening, we invited the group to join us along the lake in front of the hotel. There is an old
castle ruin there, and on the first day I knew we would have to have an impromptu concert there
for everyone. Once again, the staff was fantastic, setting up electricity and helping us get our equipment over to the ruin. We set our Irish sound system up, plugged in everything, and were annoyed to find out that our microphones we brought from the States were not compatible with the European cables. But our instruments worked fine, and so with Joey playing percussion, we created a semiacoustic concert, with Mother Nature as the fourth member of the band. Even without microphones, the acoustics were perfect enough that our singing and playing were heard by those sitting in the balconies of their hotel rooms. The waves lapped along the shore and the clouds drifted slowly across the ranges, turning gold in the setting sun. A lone red deer chose to hear the concert as well and took a place underneath a tree. It was a high point of the tour for many, and for me it was a beautiful collaboration of music and nature. People ask why our tours are so different and I think one of the things is the devotion to creating peak experiences for all involved, including us. A better setting could not be found for the tour and we all enjoyed the lengthening shadows, the calling of the heron, and magic of the moment. This truly was Ireland.
~ Marty McCormack
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